20 Inspirational Books Steve Jobs Recommended Reading

Steve Jobs Book Recommendations

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and books simply go hand in hand, whether we’re discussing his favorite business classics, spiritually enlightening texts, or diet-related titles.

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right,'” he shared during a Stanford University commencement address. “It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Reading clearly played a profound role in shaping Steve Jobs as a person, and furthermore, this beloved educational activity of his must have had something to do with the spirited – and rewarding for that matter – approach he took to life.

Therefore, in order to get to the bottom of what inspired a most capable individual to the heights of human ingenuity, we’ve compiled this list of 20 inspirational books Steve Jobs had read himself and would certainly have recommended to others as well.

This guide was created with the help of interviews, articles, and Walter Isaacson’s book, Steve Jobs.

The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen

In this classic bestseller – one of the most influential business books of all time – innovation expert Clayton Christensen shows how even the most outstanding companies can do everything right – yet still lose market leadership.

Christensen explains why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. No matter the industry, he says, a successful company with established products will get pushed aside unless managers know how and when to abandon traditional business practices.

Offering both successes and failures from leading companies as a guide, The Innovator’s Dilemma gives you a set of rules for capitalizing on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation.

Source: Walter Isaacson believes Steve Jobs was deeply influenced by this book.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn

With The Structure of Scientific RevolutionsKuhn challenged long-standing linear notions of scientific progress, arguing that transformative ideas don’t arise from the day-to-day, gradual process of experimentation and data accumulation but that the revolutions in science, those breakthrough moments that disrupt accepted thinking and offer unanticipated ideas, occur outside of “normal science,” as he called it.

Though Kuhn was writing when physics ruled the sciences, his ideas on how scientific revolutions bring order to the anomalies that amass over time in research experiments are still instructive in our biotech age.

Source: Michael S. Malone said the first time he sat down with Steve Jobs, Steve immediately asked him if he had read this book. Michael thinks Steve was assimilating into this personality, this notion that he found in this book.

Be Here Now by Ram Dass

Just ten years prior to writing this book, the author was known as Professor Richard Alpert. He held appointments in four departments at Harvard University. He published books, drove a Mercedes, and regularly vacationed in the Caribbean. By most societal standards, he had achieved great success…and yet he couldn’t escape the feeling that something was missing.

Psilocybin and LSD changed that. During a period of experimentation, Alpert peeled away each layer of his identity, disassociating from himself as a professor, a social cosmopolite, and lastly, as a physical being. Fear turned into exaltation upon the realization that at his truest, he was just his inner-self: a luminous being that he could trust indefinitely and love infinitely.

Thus, a spiritual journey commenced. Alpert headed to India where his guru renamed him Baba Ram Dass – “servant of God.” He was introduced to mindful breathing exercises, hatha yoga, and Eastern philosophy. If he found himself reminiscing or planning, he was reminded to “Be Here Now.” He started upon the path of enlightenment, and has been journeying along it ever since.

Source: “[This book] was profound. It transformed me and many of my friends,” Jobs reveals.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Who is John Galt? When he says that he will stop the motor of the world, is he a destroyer or a liberator? Why does he have to fight his battles not against his enemies but against those who need him most? Why does he fight his hardest battle against the woman he loves?

You will know the answer to these questions when you discover the reason behind the baffling events that play havoc with the lives of the amazing men and women in this book. You will discover why a productive genius becomes a worthless playboy…why a great steel industrialist is working for his own destruction…why a composer gives up his career on the night of his triumph…why a beautiful woman who runs a transcontinental railroad falls in love with the man she has sworn to kill.

A modern classic among books Peter Theil recommends and Rand’s most extensive statement of Objectivism – her groundbreaking philosophy – Atlas Shrugged offers the reader the spectacle of human greatness, depicted with all the poetry and power of one of the twentieth century’s leading artists.

Source: Steve Wozniak said he thinks Steve Jobs mentioned this book was a guide in his life.

Only the Paranoid Survive by Andrew S. Grove

Under Andy Grove’s leadership, Intel became the world’s largest chip maker and one of the most admired companies in the world. In Only the Paranoid Survive, Grove reveals his strategy for measuring the nightmare moment every leader dreads – when massive change occurs and a company must, virtually overnight, adapt or fall by the wayside – in a new way.

Grove calls such a moment a Strategic Inflection Point, which can be set off by almost anything: mega-competition, a change in regulations, or a seemingly modest change in technology. When a Strategic Inflection Point hits, the ordinary rules of business go out the window. Yet, managed right, a Strategic Inflection Point can be an opportunity to win in the marketplace and emerge stronger than ever.

Grove underscores his message by examining his own record of success and failure, including how he navigated the events of the Pentium flaw, which threatened Intel’s reputation in 1994, and how he has dealt with the explosions in growth of the Internet. The work of a lifetime, Only the Paranoid Survive is a classic of managerial and leadership skills.

Source: One of the few books Steve Jobs has written an editorial review on, he remarked, “This book is about one super-important concept. You must learn about Strategic Inflection Points, because sooner or later you are going to live through one.”

Mucusless Diet Healing System by Arnold Ehret

Professor Arnold Ehret’s Mucusless Diet Healing System contains one of the most profound revelations of the 21st century: that mucus-forming foods are unnatural for us to eat and are the fundamental cause of many human illnesses.

But how can you eliminate these foods and cleanse the body from their waste? This book has everything you need to know to instantly begin cleansing the body and gaining a new lease on life!

Source: Walter Isaacson notes that Steve Jobs’ dietary habits became even more obsessive when he read this book.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac’s years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, “a sideburned hero of the snowy West.” As “Sal Paradise” and “Dean Moriarty,” the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac’s love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance.

Source: Daniel Kottke, a friend Steve met his freshman year at Reed College, shares that he and Steve Jobs definitely read this book prior to the India trip.

Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda

Autobiography of a Yogi is at once a beautifully written account of an exceptional life and a profound introduction to the ancient science of Yoga and its time-honored tradition of meditation. With engaging candor, eloquence, and wit, Paramahansa Yogananda tells the inspiring chronicle of his life: the experiences of his remarkable childhood, encounters with many saints and sages during his youthful search throughout India for an illumined teacher, ten years of training in the hermitage of a revered yoga master, and the thirty years that he lived and taught in America.

Source: Marc Benioff discloses that everyone at Steve Jobs’ memorial service got a copy of this book.

Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe

In 1971, Diet for a Small Planet broke new ground, revealing how our everyday acts are a form of power to create health for ourselves and our planet. This extraordinary book first exposed the needless waste built into a meat-centered diet. Sharing her personal evolution, world-renowned food expert Frances Moore Lappe offers a fascinating philosophy on changing yourself – and the world – by changing the way you eat.

Source: “[After reading this book] I swore off meat pretty much for good,” Jobs points out.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

In the fifty years since its original publication, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind has become one of the great modern spiritual classics, much beloved, much reread, and much recommended as the best first book to read on Zen. Suzuki Roshi presents the basics – from the details of posture and breathing in zazen to the perception of nonduality – in a way that is not only remarkably clear, but that also resonates with the joy of insight from the first to the last page.

Source: According to Brent Schlender, this is one of those books Steve Jobs reread several times.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Ishmael narrates the monomaniacal quest of Ahab, captain of the whaler Pequod, for revenge on the albino sperm whale Moby Dick, which on a previous voyage destroyed Ahab’s ship and severed his leg at the knee. Although the novel was a commercial failure and out of print at the time of the author’s death in 1891, its reputation grew immensely during the twentieth century.

D. H. Lawrence called it “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world,” and “the greatest book of the sea ever written.” Moby-Dick is considered a Great American Novel and an outstanding work of the Romantic period in America and the American Renaissance.

Source: Walter Isaacson lists this among the books Steve Jobs loved as a kid.

The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas

Like Shakespeare and Joyce before him, Dylan Thomas expanded our sense of what the English language can do. Rhythmically forceful yet subtly musical and full of memorable lines, his poems are anthology favorites; his ‘play for voices’ Under Milk Wood a modern classic. Much loved by The Beatles and Bob Dylan, he is a cultural icon and continues to inspire artists today.

Source: Walter Isaacson lists this among the books Steve Jobs loved as a kid.

The Business Value of Computers by Paul A. Strassmann

The Business Value of Computers speaks to executives responsible for information technology. Some of the book’s findings and recommendations: there is no relation between spending for computers, profits or productivity; conventional analysis that apply revenue ratios or return-on-asset measures are unreliable; the published rankings of excellence in using computers do not relate to profitability; the effectiveness of information technology is difficult to evaluate because it mostly supports unmeasurable managerial work; business over-achievers do not spend more money on computers, they concentrate their information technology on business value-added.

Source: “There’s some incredible stuff in it,” Jobs said.

Meetings with Remarkable Men by G. I. Gurdjieff

A compulsive “read” in the tradition of adventure narratives, but suffused with Gurdjieff’s unique perspective on life, it is organized around portraits of remarkable men and women who aided Gurdjieff’s search for hidden knowledge or accompanied him on his journeys in remote parts of the Near East and Central Asia.

This is a book of lives, not doctrines, although readers will long value Gurdjieff’s accounts of conversations with sages. Meetings with Remarkable Men conveys a haunting sense of what it means to live fully – with conscience, with purpose, and with heart.

Source: Inc.com has this listed among the books Steve Jobs was influenced by.

King Lear by William Shakespeare

First performed about 1805, King Lear is one of the most relentlessly bleak of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Probably written between Othello and Macbeth, when the playwright was at the peak of his tragic power, Lear’s themes of filial ingratitude, injustice, and the meaninglessness of life in a seemingly indifferent universe are explored with unsurpassed power and depth.

The plot concerns a monarch betrayed by his daughters, robbed of his kingdom, descending into madness. Greed, treachery, and cruelty are rife and the denouement of the play is both brutal and heartbreaking.

Source: “I loved [this book],” Jobs acknowledges.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Rob is a pop music junkie who runs his own semi-failing record store. His girlfriend, Laura, has just left him for the guy upstairs, and Rob is both miserable and relieved. After all, could he have spent his life with someone who has a bad record collection? Rob seeks refuge in the company of the offbeat clerks at his store, who endlessly review their top five films; top five Elvis Costello songs; top five episodes of Cheers.

Rob tries dating a singer, but maybe it’s just that he’s always wanted to sleep with someone who has a record contract. Then he sees Laura again. And Rob begins to think that life with kids, marriage, barbecues, and soft rock CDs might not be so bad.

Source: “Guys can get an illness in which they believe there can always be a better girl around the next corner. [In this book, the author] calls it ‘death by small increments,” Jobs explains.

1984 by George Orwell

“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

Winston Smith toes the Party line, rewriting history to satisfy the demands of the Ministry of Truth. With each lie he writes, Winston grows to hate the Party that seeks power for its own sake and persecutes those who dare to commit thought crimes. But as he starts to think for himself, Winston can’t escape the fact that Big Brother is always watching.

A startling and haunting novel, 1984 creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the novel’s hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions – a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

Source: This book inspired the famous Apple “1984” Super Bowl commercial that preannounced the Macintosh.

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa

The Tibetan meditation master Chogyam Trungpa calls attention to the commonest pitfall to which every aspirant on the spiritual path falls prey: what he calls spiritual materialism. “The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use,” he says, “even spirituality.” The universal tendency is to see spirituality as a process of self-improvement – the impulse to develop and refine the ego when the ego is, by nature, essentially empty.

Source: Daniel Kottke recounts this being one of the books Steve Jobs shared with him.

The Tao of Programming by Geoffry James

The Tao of Programming is a book written in 1987 by Geoffrey James. Written in a tongue-in-cheek style spoof of classic Taoist texts such as the Tao Te Ching and Zhuangzi which belies its serious message, it consists of a series of short anecdotes divided into nine “books.”

Source: In an article he wrote for Inc.com, the author of this book says, “I put this on the list because Steve Jobs personally told me that he liked it. (Just so you know, I don’t make any money on this out-of-print book.)”

Inside the Tornado by Geoffrey A. Moore

Once a product “crosses the chasm” it is faced with the “tornado,” a make or break time period where mainstream customers determine whether the product takes off or falls flat. In Inside the Tornado, Moore details various marketing strategies that will teach marketers how to reach these customers and how to take advantage of living inside the tornado in order to reap the benefits of mainstream adoption.

Source: “Apple’s product release cycle is closely tied to Geoffrey Moore’s theory of early adopters as key to a technology’s eventual success,” reports Geoffrey James.


If you enjoyed this guide to books Steve Jobs recommends, be sure to check out our list of 20 Inspirational Books Elon Musk Recommends Reading!